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Liberation Day: Stories

Review

Liberation Day: Stories

Of the nine stories that comprise George Saunders’ new collection, only three of them are set in those bizarre parallel worlds that he is so adept at creating. (The others take place in the bizarre world in which we live.) Reading these tales is like unwrapping a package, removing one layer only to find another underneath, accumulating clues about the rules of the story’s twisted culture. By the time we grasp the (often horrifying) premise, we are hopelessly identifying with the protagonist. No matter how weird their world, they struggle with the same things we do --- conflicting loyalties, regret, falling in love.

"LIBERATION DAY is good news for fans of this quirky, wholly original author. These stories will make you laugh; they will challenge, disturb and stay with you."

“Liberation Day,” the first and longest story, is a case in point. Our protagonist is Jeremy, a Speaker who is literally trapped like a fly (“Pinioned”) against a wall. He has no agency, really, but he has ambition: to be the best, most fluent and most creative Speaker and to make his master, Mr. U, proud. Mr. U primes Jeremy and his two fellow speakers with the Pulse. “Once the Pulse is fully upon you, here will come your words, not intended by, but nevertheless flowing through you…” Occasionally Mr. U invites Company over to his Listening Room, but they usually leave politely unimpressed.

Until Mr. U adds Singers to the mix, and a plan to perform Custer’s Last Stand. There are several flies in this ointment, one being adult son Mike, who is prone to coming in and taunting the Speakers about their past (which they can’t remember); the other is Mrs. U, who visits Jeremy at night, alone, to be romanced. Will the Custer program finally impress the guests? Or does Mike have something more radical up his sleeve?

Saunders has a way of putting us so unabashedly in his characters’ heads that we can’t help but see ourselves (or someone we know) in even the strangest folk. “God, the hours of her life she’d spent trying to be good. Standing at the sink, deciding if some plastic tofu tub was recyclable.” The stories often illustrate a trait that most of us can relate to --- a mother’s protective concern for her son, for instance --- and turn up the dial to expose how strange yet familiar they are. Who hasn’t considered ratting out a fellow office worker for stealing supplies?

If you’re looking for comfort or neat endings, you're looking in the wrong place. “Love Letter” in particular might make you uncomfortable for a long while. In it, an old man writes to his beloved grandson, addressing the topic of why he didn’t do more to prevent his country from a long slide into authoritarianism. “Seen in retrospect, yes: I have regrets. There was a certain critical period. I see that now…. It did not seem (and please destroy this letter after you have read it) that someone so clownish could disrupt something so noble and time-tested and seemingly strong, something that had been with us literally every day of our lives.”

Saunders’ Buddhist philosophy pervades “My House,” the last story in the collection. In it, a man falls in love with an old house that is on the market. He makes an offer that he is sure will be accepted by the old man who is selling. But they have a falling-out. In a final letter to the stubborn owner (after several less charitable ones), the man reflects: “Your wrongness was an idea I had. I am all but gone. My idea of your wrongness will go with me. Your rightness is an idea you are having. It will go with you.”

In short, LIBERATION DAY is good news for fans of this quirky, wholly original author. These stories will make you laugh; they will challenge, disturb and stay with you. This book will go on my shelf alongside his others, to be experienced again.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on October 21, 2022

Liberation Day: Stories
by George Saunders

  • Publication Date: October 18, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 0525509593
  • ISBN-13: 9780525509592